Sleepless in Medford

My alarm went off and I groaned. I had tapped out early the night before, in hopes that I’d get a nice restful sleep before volunteering the next day. The reality was a little different. After many different positions, sweating through two tank tops, and an hour’s worth of sleep, I was done. When I laid down the night prior, I was wide-awake, more awake than I had been the entire night I’d been out; funny how that happens. I admitted defeat when my alarm went off in the morning, having lost the battle. I wondered if I’d be tired enough to sleep that night, or if my bed would again be my nemesis.

That was just one particular episode of my life-long battle with sleep. It’s not always this way, and if we’re being honest with each other (and I like to think that we are), the last few nights I’ve slept very well, like almost 8 hours. Sometimes, I get right up, ready to tackle whatever it is that the day has in store for me. Other days, I just grab my comforter and roll over, basking in the after-glow of a successful night’s sleep. I appreciate these nights so much because I know that they are the exception rather than the rule. When I’m not sleeping well, a good night’s sleep seems about as likely as getting struck by lightning. Twice.

So which is it usually? As much as I hate to admit it, it’s about a fifty-fifty split, and it’s the former more than the latter. When I was younger, I don’t think that I thought too much about sleep. Every Sunday night, I’d try to get a good night’s rest for the coming week ahead, and it would take me several hours to nod off to sleep. Sometimes my eczema would flare up, and that would keep me itching into the early hours of the morning. The difference between then and now is that when you’re a kid, you bounce back a lot quicker. You’re just so full of energy, and you’re constantly doing activities that hold your attention, or you’re creating your own games. When you’re an adult, the thought of taking on an 8-hour workday after a restless night is a little more daunting.

My senior year of college was when the real insomnia hit. My home life was stressful, and that stress, as well as my inability to manage it, seemed to bleed into every other aspect of my life. Muffled sounds of the TV in the next room sounded so much louder, and I’d tell my roommate to turn it down, much to his chagrin. My other roommate bought a clock that ticked, but the ticking wasn’t consistent, and rather than being a useful tool to tell time with, I made him get rid of it because the uneven intervals between each tick were making me crazy. I’m not sure if I slept any better after that.

On the nights where I lay down and sleep doesn’t come, I can usually tell by my eyelids. If after a time, they start to feel more and more heavy, then I’m good. Sleep should come soon. On the nights when they still feel light was a feather after half an hour or so, I know that I’m screwed. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and pretty soon I’m rolling around and frustrated. My mind is louder in these moments than it ever is during the day, and it doesn’t take too long before the thoughts become negative, possibly morbid. Sometimes I think about death, and it becomes hard to breath. My anxiety spikes. My neck becomes sore, and my mind continues to race, thinking of terrible things or just things, anything to keep it occupied. I start to think about how I might sleep through my alarm, and this breeds more anxiety. Once I’ve missed my window of sleep, I know it could be a very long night.

My Dad used to get up and watch TV, or sometimes sleep on the couch. I know that he had the same troubles as I do, and that I got his genes when it comes to sleeping. However, I have learned a few things in my near thirty years. After counting in intervals of three back from 100, after breathing exercises fail to produce the desired results, rather than watch TV, I get up and read. It doesn’t always work, but at the very least I’m occupying my mind with something else. At the very least it mitigates my frustration.

I actively avoid looking at the clock. I know that each viewing will only serve as a painful remind of how much less time I now have to get some much needed beauty sleep, so why bother? I keep my phone plugged and overturned on top of my laptop, retrieving it in the morning when my alarm goes off. The last thing I try to do the night before is have an hour before bed without screens of any kind. By reading a physical book, I feel like I’m taking it easy on my eyes. Tea can also be helpful, and I’m hoping that by having it about an hour before bed, it’ll trigger to my mind that it’s time to start winding down. Let’s see if Pavlov was worth his salt.

Sometimes none of those tricks work, and I’m in for a long night/day. Despite how miserable I was in college when I couldn’t sleep, I know that I can still push through the day and make it. It’s not fun, but I know that I can’t call out sick every time that I get a couple of hours of shut-eye. I’d probably be fired if I did. I may not ever be a “good sleeper,” but at the very least I can try to get better. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really should get some rest. Keep it to a dull roar.

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